by Agam Shah

Tablet Computers: Five Things You Need to Know

Mar 25, 2010
Data Center

Apple’s iPad brings tablet computers back into the limelight but will these devices fulfill your needs?

They’re not mini-laptops. Tablets are handheld devices with touch screens ranging in size from five to 10 inches. Also called “slates” by PC makers, they include touch interfaces that allow users to surf the Web, play games, view movies and read e-books. One celebrated example is Apple’s iPad, which was announced in January and goes on sale this month. Makers expected to start shipping devices later this year include Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

They fill a gap. The rapid growth of mobile Internet and touch screens has created a new class of computing devices for consumers, says Phil McKinney, Hewlett-Packard’s CTO. Tablets enable mobile access to online content like newspapers, movies and games. Apple CEO Steve Jobs surfed the Internet and watched a movie on the iPad while sitting on a couch at that tablet’s unveiling. He said the iPad is meant to fill the void between the iPhone and the MacBook laptop.

They#x2019;re Best for fun. Tablets have drawbacks compared to laptops (no keyboard, limited software support), but they work well as entertainment devices and e-book readers. Tablet users need to hang up their PC reliance, says Vira Chen, assistant product manager at Micro-Star International, a Taiwan-based PC maker. A lot of trial and error goes into perfecting these devices, and the most innovative company will win, Chen says.

They Travel Well. The device is mostly for casual use, but tablets could find some business uses. David Milman, CEO of computer repair firm Rescuecom, says that tablets could replace laptops for presentations and working on planes. “Certainly getting through security would be easier with an iPad than with a 4-pound laptop and all of its accessories,” Milman says. But tablets could break if subjected to rigorous use, so they need to be designed to be more rugged.

Business uses are limited. Analysts say tablets will suit niche markets, like workers recording field data. But there are obstacles too, says Steve Rausch, director of information services at Gibson General Hospital in Princeton, Ind. “I know our doctors would love the iPad if it could run our software. It’s light, comfortable, and something they’re used to since they have iPhones,” he says. Right now the iPad only runs applications from Apple’s App Store.